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Pop couture: how PET plastic bottles are spun into polar fleece.

PICTURE THIS: You're out for an evening paddle on a clear, crisp night but it's getting a little chilly, so you reach into your backpack and pull out 25 two-litre plastic bottles to wrap cozily around you. While this sounds far-fetched, It's pretty much what happens when you pull on a polyester fleece sweater.

Polyester fleece was first manufactured by Malden Mills Industries, a US company that had been producing wool sweaters and bathing suits since the early 1900s. Following trends using polyester In clothing--and attempting to recoup massive financial loss after heavy investment in faux fur--Malden Mills Introduced Polarfleece in 1979.

By the early 1980s, Polarfleece was a multimillion-dollar product. Malden Mills became Polartec LLC in 2007, and currently produces polyester fleece under the trade names PolarTec and Polarfleece.

Synthetic fleece clothing has become increasingly popular since the 1990s, especially for outdoorsy and travelling types, because it's light to pack and Incredibly warm. Most polyester fleece currently on the market is made by Polartec and is recycled from PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles. The fabric is made in the USA and Is used by popular clothing companies, including MEC and Patagonia, but has also been made into underwear for astronauts and woven Into the lining of deep-sea diving suits.

But just how do manufacturers turn rigid plastic bottles into soft, warm material for outdoor and outer-space adventures?

But just how do manufacturers turn rigid plastic bottles into soft, warm material for outdoor and outer-space adventures?

(1) The plastic bottles are put onto a conveyor belt where workers separate clear plastic from green. Caps, foreign objects and non-PET items are removed from the belt and placed to the side.

(2) The plastic bottles are sterilized in a bath and crushed into small pieces which are then washed a second time.

(3) The plastic is heated and forced through spinnerets to create strands which harden and are collected in containers.

(4) These strands are threaded through a spinning machine which twists them and winds them around spools.

(5) The threads from the spool are drawn through heated rollers and pulled to almost four times their original length.

(6) The threads are pulled through a crimping machine, which adds texture and strength, and are then dried.

(7) Dried threads are fed into a spinning machine which spins them into yarn.

(8) The yarn is submersed into large vats of non-water-soluble chemical dyes. Yarn made from green bottles is dyed darker colours, while clear plastic yarn is dyed lighter colours.

(9) After the yarn is dried, it is fed into a knitting machine that creates the rolls of cloth.

(10) The knitted cloth is fed through a machine called a napper, which creates the fuzzy texture of the fleece.

(11) Finally, the material is cut and sent to the factory to be made into garments.

Pros and Cons: Why you might choose fleece over fabrics--or not.

Pros

[check] Warm and insulating

[check] Often less expensive than wool

[check] Can be made from recycled plastic bottles

[check] Lightweight

[check] Machine washable and fast-drying

[check] Very resilient and long-lasting

[check] Soft and comfortable to wear

Cons

x Flammable

x Made from petrochemicals

x Difficult to recycle the fabric itself

x Cheap fleece will pill after washing

x Notwindproof

x Generates a lot of static

x Sheds ocean-polluting microplastics when laundered

Jessie O'Driscoll is a recent graduate from the Environment and Business program at the University of Waterloo.
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Publication:Alternatives Journal
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:May 1, 2015
Words:571
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